Global healthcare leader GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Limited has launched an SMS based platform through which consumers can verify if their medicine is genuine or counterfeit.
GSK Managing Director John Musunga explained that GSK would bear the full cost of the project - dubbed Hakikisha Dawa - meaning the SMS service would be toll free for consumers as the company tightens its fight against fake drugs in the market.
"Counterfeit medications sometimes have no active ingredient which means the patient will not get the drug that they require," he said.
"(There are) counterfeits that have different and harmful active ingredients so if patients take inappropriate medication, of course they won't get well," he emphasised.
He revealed that they are launching a pilot program with two of their prescription products (Augmentin 625mg tablets and Zentel 400mg tablets) to enable patients to verify that the medicine they're purchasing has been supplied by GSK.
"The costs at the moment are prohibitive to rolling this out nationwide to all patients, so hopefully with this pilot we'll be able to come back with all stakeholders so we can develop a program that can be sustainable to patients and the government as well," he said.
"In Kenya we are spending Sh20 million per year to roll out this program for these two products, so we're starting small and hopefully developing the tools and giving confidence to stakeholders to come together to discuss this initiative," he added.
To ensure the success of the initiative, Musunga confirmed that GSK has partnered with all the mobile service providers to ensure that consumers are able to access the service via all networks.
The Director of Regulatory Affairs for Developing Countries William Mwatu said, "patient focus is one of GSK's core values, and ensuring patient safety a key priority for GSK."
He explained that the project's aim is to differentiate products supplied by the firm in order to promote customer confidence and trust.
"Consumers have expressed concern and need for them to be able to verify that the products that they use are of the right quality and safe for use," he added.
"This project will enable consumers initiate product verification and authentication by use of mobile phone SMS service thereby giving them confidence that the products they are using have been supplied by GSK, and meet the required standards for quality and safety," he said.
Mwatu revealed that the use of mobile phone technology in health has not be explored much and that GSK believes the project will provide it and the regulator with insights on how it can be used to enhance patient safety.
"We know that a few companies have run similar pilots but to a much lower scale such that a lot of the patients are not aware of it," he noted.
"We plan to run the SMS project throughout the whole country and also ensure that patients are aware of this service and encouraged to use it," he added.
Customers will be required to scratch the security label on the medicine packet to reveal a unique code, which they will send to 15629 in order to receive a confirmation message from the verification system.
The campaign will be rolled out in Kenya and subsequent launches will follow in Tanzania.